Category Archives: Dog Diseases

Tick Season – Is it time to change your routine?

  • What do you use for a flea and tick preventative?
  • Do you use the same product year after year since it works?
  • Did someone recommend the product?
  • With new stories about flea and tick preventives available, are you rethinking your usual strategy? I know I am.

For many years, I was against using flea and tick pesticides on my dog. I took her hiking and camping with me through the north woods of Wisconsin down to the Smokey Mountains. She often had many ticks, which I pulled off her.

One night while camping in the Sandhills of Nebraska next to the Niobrara River, my springer spaniel, Kaylee, must have lain in a tick nest before entering my tent. All night I kept feeling ticks crawling on me. I pulled off at least half a dozen that night as I tried to sleep between her and my husband, who, of course, didn’t feel any ticks. I hate that feeling—of a tick crawling on me in the middle of the night. Then I’d continue to feel as if ticks were crawling on me for hours.

Still, I wouldn’t use pesticides on Kaylee. I’d comb her and thoroughly search any tiny bumps every day from March through November. She didn’t mind my extra attention with extra pets and rubs, but barely tolerated combing her thick fur and pulling ticks out of her skin.

Fleas were a problem in the late summer and I religiously used a fine-toothed flea comb every day, drowning the ones I found in a dish filled with soapy water. Occasionally Kaylee had too many fleas and I had to give her a flea soap bath. She hated waiting the ten minutes required to kill the fleas as she stood with soapy fur in the cold basement laundry tub. The flea soap was mild and only killed the fleas on the dog at the time, so a few days later she could need another bath. When we lived in a log cabin style house, the fleas found crevices to live in and stayed around all winter, even with me vacuuming the rugs almost daily. Looking back, I’m amazed at how much time and effort I put into flea and tick patrol.

My aversion to pesticides ran deep. Back in the mid-1980s, my parent’s dog was given an insecticide dip by the vet. According to my mom, Skippy deteriorated within days of the dip, becoming disoriented and shaking uncontrollably. Notably, he was an old dog, around twelve, but he was my best friend during my teenage years. They had to euthanize him because of his suffering. My fear of poisoning Kaylee was why I refused to use pesticides. I knew there was a risk of catching a disease from the ticks—but I thought it was minimal.

But in October of 2003, my next springer, Cassie, developed paralysis in all four legs within the course of about twelve hours. The vet said one possibility was a tick-borne disease, like Lyme disease. About six weeks before, Cassie had hundreds of tiny deer ticks bites and I had used a spot-on treatment given to me by her agility trainer. The ticks fell off and I had forgotten about it until her paralysis. Cassie had been vaccinated for Lyme disease, so her blood tests showed her having antibodies. But Lyme disease symptoms include generalized muscle weakness that progresses at a slower rate.

A neurologist diagnosed Cassie with Coon Hound Paralysis, an autoimmune disease that leaves the dog temporarily paralyzed. It’s very similar to Guillain-Barré Syndrome in people. After five days of observation at the emergency veterinary hospital and thousands of dollars, Cassie made a full recovery.

My vet told me to use a spot-on treatment for ticks since they can cause so many diseases. So I did, for many years. I never thought about changing my routine since the vet had recommended it, even the brand I should use. Cassie loved walks in the woods, so I always used the pesticides, but she passed away two years ago. Now I have inherited my mom’s two older cocker spaniels, which are homebodies. I mostly walk them around our neighborhood where the lawns and shrubs are well kept—not prime tick habitat.

Dog getting a flea & tick treatment

My cocker spaniel, Buffy, getting a spot-on treatment.

I’ve been noticing articles discussing alternative methods for flea and tick control, so during our annual visit last month, I asked my vet what she thought. She said that if the cockers stay in areas with manicured lawns, then they probably don’t need tick preventives during the spring and fall, but I should use a flea preventative during the late summer.

What is your dog’s exposure to areas that have ticks and fleas?

Ticks are most active in spring and fall, although in the Chicago area, I’ve seen them as early as the middle of February and as late as November. They are more common from April through early June, but I’ve also seen them throughout the summer months. They usually occur in tall grasses and forested areas. I’m outside a lot for my job and sometimes I’ve had ticks on me from walking only a few feet off a gravel trail for a minute in the forest preserve, but have not found them when walking in dense woods on islands. So ticks can occur almost anywhere—it’s hard to predict.

If your dog stays in the city or suburbs around manicured lawns, its risk for exposure to ticks is minimal. But you should still check for them, usually by giving them a thorough petting once a day—that they love!

Fleas flourish in grasses—even mowed lawns. I’ve found that some houses and yards have more fleas than others depending on if dogs with fleas had lived there and built up a population, and if there is good habitat. When I moved away from the log cabin house where fleas survived inside, to my current house, the fleas disappeared on my dog—even though it was during prime flea season in the middle of summer.

What are spot-on treatments?

Spot-on treatments are pesticides that are absorbed through the skin. But these chemical have also been found in their organs and fat. Several chemicals used for spot-on treatments include:

  • Fipronil—is the chemical recommended by my vet, and I have used for years in my Frontline Plus treatments. It works well, but according to Animal Wellness (Vol. 19, Issue 2); fipronil can cause nervous system and thyroid toxicity, cancer, and other conditions, as well as hair loss at the application point.
  • Imidacloprid—is in the chemical class of neonicotinoids and is a neurotoxin. This chemical can cause thyroid, liver, kidney, heart and other organ problems. Imidacloprid is a common chemical used in flea and tick pesticides and may be used in combinations with other chemicals.
  • Pyrethrins, pyrethroids, and permethrins—are often thought of as safer chemicals since pyrethrins come from chrysanthemum plants. Pyrethroids and permethrins are synthetic alternatives. But actually, these chemicals have a higher toxicity than the others mentioned and have caused some fatalities.

What are the alternatives to spot-on treatments?

Alternatives to spot-on treatments are becoming more available and I recommend researching these products more thoroughly.

  • Oral chews are now available for monthly or longer treatments, such as Bravecto—that claims to last up to 12 weeks for most ticks. This product requires a prescription from your veterinarian.
  • Topical sprays and squeeze on’s may be better if your dog only occasionally visits tick-infested areas, like my cocker spaniels. Petzlife has a topical spray that lasts several weeks as does Ruff on Bugs, Wondercide, and Only Natural Pet. I’m sure there are many others. They all use different chemicals, so you should do some research.
  • Powders added to your dog’s food. These may take a week or so to be effective.
  • A tag placed on your dog’s collar. It uses your pet’s bio-energy to create a natural preventative to biting insects. It takes about three weeks to become effective and lasts about a year. Only Natural Pet produces this product.

What do I recommend?

As you can see, there are many alternatives out there and I highly recommend researching them. Your vet may only recommend products that they sell, are easy to use, and have a long history. So keep an open mind and think about trying some of these alternatives. I certainly will—once my Frontline Plus supply is used up.

Please leave a comment on your experiences with flea and tick preventives or leave me a note on my contact page or sign up to receive future blog posts.  Spot-on Flea and Tick Preventives, Volume 19, Issue 2 Dr. Foster and Smith article on pet education, Ingredients in Flea & Tick Control Products.

Why is my dog scratching his face?

Chipper, my cocker spaniel, rubbed the left side of his face everywhere, on my legs, the kitchen cabinets, even on the asphalt driveway.  He would scratch at his face, but not to the point of damaging the skin, so I couldn’t tell exactly where he itched.

He drooled puddles of saliva while he sat patiently hoping for a tidbit while my husband and I ate dinner. I frequently grabbed paper towels to wipe a string of slime from his jowls.  Every morning I used a fine-toothed comb to remove most of the dried gook, which collected on his neck and the inside tip of his long droopy ear.  His white jaw and neck developed a brown stain. Chipper normally wasn’t such a drooly, itchy dog.

What was going on?  Could it be an infected tooth? Was it just the hot summer, causing him to pant more?  After a week or so, I took him to the vet.

“It’s a yeast infection,” my vet said.  “They can drive a dog crazy.  Notice this brown stain, its yeast growing near his lower lip, in a fold, next to his canine tooth.”

The vet told me to shave his chin as close as possible and to clean his face twice a day with ear cleaning solution, which has a cleaning and drying agent.  But after a week, it wasn’t going away, so I started doing some research.

What is Lip Fold Dermatitis?

It’s that time of year again, hot and humid. This summer in the Chicago area has been warmer than the last few. Warm, moist conditions create a great environment for bacteria and yeast to grow.

Dog with lip fold dermatitis

Chipper’s stained jowl.

It turns out we were lucky.  Many dogs with heavy jowls and lip folds develop infections that can smell very bad.  Lip fold dermatitis and lip fold pyoderma are sometimes used interchangeably, but as Pet Helpful explains pyoderma is an infection involving pus, while dermatitis is just inflammation.  Severe cases of pyoderma produce a strong odor, described in my favorite blog, Fidose of Reality (also about a cocker spaniel).

How to treat lip fold dermatitis

  • Keep the area as clean and dry as possible.
    • Shave the fur very short.
    • Brush your dog’s teeth at least once a day.
      • Excess food stuck in the lip fold allows bacteria and yeast to grow.
    • Wash your dog’s face several times a day with a washcloth and hand soap or other cleanser that is safe for your dog’s face. Wipe dry with a towel.
  • Mal-A-Ket wipes contain an antifungal and antibacterial agent. Use more often to get the dermatitis under control (once a day), then every few days once the infection is under control.
  • Wrinkle Balm has all natural ingredients and designed for dogs with skin folds on their face. Since Chipper doesn’t really have a skin fold, just his lip, I have not used this product much.  It may be more helpful for other breeds.
Dog with lip fold dermatitis

Chipper’s lip fold.

Cleaning Chipper’s mouth several times a day has reduced the drool and dried slobber on his fur although there’s still some staining.  I’m hoping cooler weather will set in soon with the approach of fall, and then he will pant less and I hope his drooling will decrease.

Does your dog have lip fold dermatitis?  What have you done to reduce it?

Bad Dog Breath – Why You Should Clean their Teeth

“Come Buddy,” I motioned my arm for my sister’s deaf twelve year-old cocker spaniel to approach me as I sat on the kitchen floor, toothbrush in hand.  He patiently sat in front of me while I inserted his new toothbrush into his mouth.  He had just moved in with me since my sister didn’t think he would survive the four-day drive to California where she was re-locating.

I turned my head away as he exhaled a rotten egg smell.  His yellow and black teeth suffered from years of neglect.  I only hoped I could reduce his bad breath by starting a daily brushing routine.  His foul breath prevented me from giving him many hugs and pets he needed at this time of transition so late in his life.

I had always brushed my own dog’s teeth, but only a few times a week.  Kaylee, my springer spaniel, was only two and her breath was fresh and her teeth white.  But I learned from Buddy the importance of dental hygiene.  Buddy wasn’t healthy enough to undergo anesthesia for a professional cleaning, so I did what I could.  Even with daily brushing, his breath remained foul.

I vowed never to let my dogs get bad breath in their old age again, so I maintained a daily brushing routine. 

That’s why I brush my dog’s teeth – to prevent bad breath, so I can enjoy their company well into their senior years.  And it has worked.  None of my dogs since Buddy has had bad breath. 

I brush their teeth daily, not at the best time, since it is part of their daily grooming before breakfast.  But this routine has worked for me for decades.  My cleaning is not sufficient to prevent tartar build up, but it helps a lot.

Chipper's clean teeth

Chipper’s clean teeth. 

Chipper's pulled teeth.

Chipper’s pulled teeth.

Chipper, the cocker I inherited from my mom, just got his teeth cleaned this week.  He’s now eleven and even after three years of brushing his teeth, they still looked bad, so the vet recommended professional cleaning.  He also needed to get a few bumps removed.  The difference was amazing-he no longer had black stains on his teeth.  The vet removed four small teeth and said he had moderate gingivitis and mild periodontal disease.  She stressed it was better to get his teeth cleaned now than to wait until there’s a problem.

So here’s my recommendation so you can enjoy your pet long into their senior years:

  • Brush their teeth daily with a dog toothpaste. Mine prefer poultry flavor (yuck).
  • Sometime between the ages of 7 and 10, get their teeth professionally cleaned. You may need to do this more than once in their lifetime.  Your dog needs to be healthy enough for the anesthesia and get a few troublesome lumps removed while you’re at it.
Chipper'sdental report

Chipper’s dental report

It’s good for their health.  Bad teeth can cause bacteria to spread to vital organs, causing serious health issues.

Watch this video on how to clean your dog’s teeth – it shows a springer, my favorite breed!

Wobbly Gait in Dogs – Is it Serious?

Cassie tripped as she walked on the driveway, caught herself and kept walking toward me.  How many times had this happened today?  At least ten, or was it closer to twenty?  I watched her walk, awkwardly curving to the left.  My vet thought she had arthritis in opposite legs, causing her to trip and walk abnormally.  A week later, she couldn’t walk and was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  We had to put her down less than a week later as her condition deteriorated.

Ataxia or abnormal gait, takes many different forms, most of which are neurological, although there could be joint issues such as arthritis.  If your dog shows any of these symptoms, take her to the vet immediately ( )

Cassie being guided in her harness and sling when she couldn't balance.

Cassie being guided in her harness and sling when she couldn’t balance.

  • Misplacement of the paws,
  • Taking large and/or odd steps,
  • Progressive weakness in the legs,
  • Leaning to one side,
  • Body swaying,
  • Tipping, falling or rolling over,
  • Unusual eye movements,
  • Head and/or body tremors
  • Drowsiness or stupor

Possible illnesses that could cause these symptoms include:

  • Wobbler’s Syndrome (Cervical spondylomyelopathy (CSM)), which occurs mostly in giant breeds, but also in Basset Hounds. It is due to compression in the spinal column or the vestibulocochlear nerve that carries information from the inner ear to the brain.  It usually comes on slowly, but sometimes can happen suddenly
  • Vestibular disease is a disorder of the inner ear causing imbalance. My vet had thought Cassie might have this since her symptoms progressed so rapidly.  But motion sickness pills did not help, and her gait was quite different from in this video.
  • Coon Hound paralysis is a disease that Cassie developed when she was three years old. It is a temporary condition similar to Guillain Barré Syndrome in humans.  A wobbly gait was one of the first symptoms, then paralysis in her rear end, then her front.  Luckily, she was only ill for about a week.
  • Poisoning
  • Nervous system diseases or injuries

Your veterinarian should check out a sudden development of a wobbly gait, or even tripping, immediately.  Sometimes treatment within hours can prevent complications later.